2022 was one of the most traumatizing years of my life although, to be fair—to be fair, ha!—it included love and friendship and adventure and all that good stuff too. I always hear it’s hard to read when we are in a state of constant this is fine-fire/dog life, but my brain—my, um, indelicately barbecued 2022 brain—tells me that is all the more reason to read! There’s all the usual cliches—reading as escape, reading as immersion, reading for empathy, etc but I think there is even more. I start to trip over myself when I try to explain what that more is and how it often saves my life and how it also traumatizes me and how it challenges me to be not just the best writer I can be but that most glorious of all existences: the best reader.
Writers always say stuff like this! (This is fine). But I tried to explain to someone the other day why I think people sometimes these days are quick to hating authors—the gift of our art can feel like labor. Here is something I have to consume over hours, days, weeks, etc and shut down my life for? And then there will be more of that? apparently some readers asks.
But there’s something in that somewhat unquantifiable more that I think is key for me.
This was a heavy reading year for me as many people I knew had books out, but I love diving into the work of someone, say, I’ve had an ill-advised cigarette with. (This is fine!!) Here are handful of books that did that extra indescribable thing for me:
- I started the year interviewing my genius friend Elif Batuman for Poets & Writers. Either/Or is her sequel to The Idiot. Elif is one of the most charming and hilarious human beings who has ever lived, and everything she writes is that energy. (The heart of my interview with her was really me just begging her for a trilogy, now that I am thinking about it.)
- Then there’s Tanaïs’s In Sensorium: Notes for My People, an exquisite gem of a book. Tanais like Elif has been in my communities for years. They are an amazing novelist, jeweler, perfumer, artist, healer—you name it. This book has an intimacy and elegance that not just gets to the heart of “complicated identities” (a term I hate because what identity does not have complexities?!) it confronts and honors in the same breath. As a Muslim brown woman, I felt like this book was truly a gift.
- Another person I adore and the queen of delivering even more just when you were happy with their more: my dear mentor Can Xue who has two books out this year! I blurbed the very autobiographic Barefoot Doctor and I am currently deep in the wild tangles of her new novella Mystery Train. This next year Can Xue turns 70 and she is as unstoppable, otherworldly, and in fact thisworldly as ever. I read and study her as a master in a time of few masters.
- I was so lucky to meet Gabriella Angotti-Jones because her I Just Wanna Surf is definitely a book I will love forever. Her publishers Mass Books call it a “photo book, zine, and diary” and its DIY splendor really spoke to me. I loved losing myself in her beautiful photos of her community of Black women and non-binary surfers. I had wanted to be a surfer more than once as a child—a child who had zero chance to get on a surfboard!—so I was hooked. Gabriella’s discussions of depression and racism and all kinds of tribulations in Southern California will also resonate with so many people.
- I also blurbed The Said They Wanted Revolution by Neda Semnani and Sarah Fay’s Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses. These books are very different but if you fall on the author-activist-journalist axis—or are aspiring to!—these books will capture you in the best way. You are definitely a this-is-fine dog so your trauma needs these storytellers. The craft involved here is just as nourishing as the tales themselves.
- I also enjoyed exploring several anthologies I was in this year: The World As We Knew It by Amy Brady and Tajja Isen, and Rebecca Walker’s Women Talk Money. The best part of being in an anthology is reading your neighbors; both these books I found were full of important life lessons, wisdom about the future, warnings about what could come—plus moments of much-needed humor about it all.
- This was also a year where I finally met my friend, award-winning translator of Korean literature, Anton Hur, and then decided I need to read everything he has translated—one day! But Cursed Bunny and Violets alone carried me at points this year. His books can be an amazing entry point for someone looking to read translated literature at its best.
- Finally, we have landed on the fortieth anniversary of Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. This is one of my favorite works of experimental art of all time and reading it again was a very haunting and thrilling ride. (We just put up a tribute issue at Evergreen Review—November is not just the anniversary of this book but also, sadly, her murder).
- Other books by authors I also happen to love so much: Mohsin Hamid’s The Last White Man, Marcy Dermansky’s Hurricane Girl, Lidia Yuknavitch’s Thrust, Allie Rowbottom’s Aesthetica, Ben Okri’s The Last Gift of the Master Artist! There is a sort of exquisite joy in diving into the imaginations of humans I know are also good people.
I have—yes—more. But it’s 5am and someone somewhere is still joking about the fires to put out as fires are really barely being put out, so I’ll leave it at this. Please read. A wise man, a dog, a friend, a tweet, a post, a bad memory, a candy wrapper, told me to tell you that. It’s just a way, another way, after all.